Rats! to Socialized Healthcare

Government medicine really stinks.

In a story "Dead rodent stops operation," Reuters reported:

Andrew Cowper was due to have an operation at the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Hertfordshire when staff "were made aware of a dead rodent in the single storey unit's roof space," the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital said its experts concluded that the dead animal was outside the operating theater and posed no risk.

But "despite being told that the trust's infection control experts had stated that Mr Cowper was not being exposed to an infection risk, he decided not to proceed with the operation," it said.

Cowper, 19, told the Sun newspaper he had waited 11 months for the operation, and the doctor told him he could go ahead despite the stench.

"He said the smell didn't represent a health risk, but I was appalled," Cowper said. "I asked him: 'If you were me, would you have the operation?' He looked at me and said 'no', so I decided there and then I wasn't going to go ahead."

This account suggests several points to ponder.

First, the British hospital obviously didn't care what their "customer" thought about the dead rodent.  Their experts ruled that the smell did not pose any health risk - so that was that.  The fact that the mere existence of the decaying beast might possibly suggest that a prudent patient might legitimately be concerned with the hospital's overall housekeeping methodology was irrelevant.

Reuters' account suggests that the hospital PR department was mildly frustrated that Mr. Cowper didn't accept their expert's opinion and go ahead with the operation.  Since Mr. Cowper had already waited nigh on a year for the operation, they reasonably figured he'd go ahead as scheduled come hell or high water; after all, doubtless that's the choice made by most frustrated patients.  When you've waited that long for medical care, you just want to "get it over with."

This callous attitude toward users is typical of government-run activities.  As a practical matter, it's nearly impossible to fire government employees at any level regardless of how badly they perform.  What's worse, the existence of any "free" government-provided service makes it difficult for more efficient organizations to compete; hospital employees have no reason to make any effort to care about "customers" who have no choice.

As we've pointed out earlier, this can be a good thing if the service being provided is something we don't want people to do, but leads to highly unsatisfactory outcomes in important services such as medical care and education which we do want.

Second, this is a graphic illustration of how single-payer systems solve the only real question in health care - how does the system limit demand?

Reuters reported, almost in passing, that Mr. Cowper had waited 11 months for his operation.  The tone of the article shows that the media did not think waiting this long was unusual at all.  Reuters and the Sun considered an 11 month wait for surgery to be normal - the deceased rodent was the only newsworthy aspect to the story.

There are only two known ways to limit demand for health care - charge patients for services or set a budget and make people wait when demand exceeds the budget.  Single-payer systems use the latter method which is why Mr. Cowper waited so long.  Such system always stay within their budgets because patients die or heal themselves while waiting for treatment.

Turning health care over to the government is a good way to end up with hospitals who care about as much about curing their patients as public school teachers unions care about educating their students; this generally means little if any caring at all.  If you enjoy waiting in line at the Social Security office, you'll love government-run health care.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
That last sentence is awful close to one I've used for years when discussing socialized medicine: "Turning health care over to the government doesn't get you Marcus Welby, it gets you the DMV".
March 18, 2008 10:46 AM
Will Offensight may be an internationally recognized writer, but his rejection of a single payer health care system based upon comparasion to Britian's socialized medical system proves he does not know what he's writing about.

Single payer is not a government run health care system, but instead a government run insurance company; which allows you to retain your doctor, choose your hospital or clinic. It's not socialized medicine but social insurance.

The basic premise is that by cutting the 35-45% of costs associated with insurance companies advertising, high executive salaries and employing thousands of employees whose job is to deny benefits we can extend helath care coverage to all Americans.

We're currently paying enough to cover every single American, if we're willing to remove the Insurance companies---let them write other types of policies.

We pay more for health care per capita than any other industrialized country yet the results we attain are troubling. In every major catergory we trail the pack. We need a comprehensive change that includes single payer(insurance), pay-for-performance(health care) and information technology to cut the billions of dollars of waste.
March 18, 2008 1:50 PM
There are so many legitimate things that are wrong with what John Walsh said, it's hard to know where to begin. Cutting advertisements by private businesses to save costs? What the... Why doesn't the government take over Microsoft and Yahoo too while they're at it, merge the two, and offer their services free (by again, of course, eliminating billions in advertising and "high salaries")

The hardest thing about debating with you libs is that you lack such a core understanding of economics. (I suppose that makes sense in a way. After all, the government took over education and we have geniuses like John here. I suppose after it takes over medicine, we'll all die ten years younger too)
March 18, 2008 2:09 PM
Whenever I read the words of those who advocate socialism in any form, I'm always reminded of Lenny Bruce's great line: "Communism is like one big phone company."

People always associate large monopolies with "corporate America," but the truth is that no monopoly has ever really existed without government backing -- AT&T's original setup is a prime example.

If you have a problem with monopolies and the way they do business, you'd do well to remember that the government is the biggest monopoly -- and the only one that can quite literally kill you if you don't consume it's products.

Socialized medicine is such an incredibly bad idea -- it boggles the mind how easy it is to dangle "free" stuff in front of the people who, like simple-minded children, smile and chortle "ooh, shiny!" and vote for the candidate offering it. This widespread ignorance is frightening, but perhaps not surprising, given that the government has been running the majority of our schools for so long...
March 18, 2008 3:00 PM
Here In Canada We have socialized hospitals. Yes we have long wait times. But, you don't need to be a millionaire to get basic surgery. As much as our health care system has problems as it is a monopoly, Americans, have their own set of problems. The largest problem would have to be insurance. Because most people have insurance, they don't have to fork out the money from their own pockets. That means that they aren't going to shop for the lowest bid. That leads to huge bills for the insurance companies which of course is passed along to the insurance buyer. I think that you will find that American hospitals are at least as inefficient as Canadian hospitals dollar for dollar. Of course Americans also have the problem of getting ripped off by the insurance companies who won't pay up. Then your stuck with unsurmountable debt that you can never pay off.
March 18, 2008 7:43 PM
Nobody is saying that the American healthcare system doesn't have problems, far from it. I would even say it's possible that the American healthcare system, as a whole, has problems as grave as the Canadian one, as a whole. The question is the right way to FIX the problems - and the trouble with the American system is not that it has too little government interference, it's that it has far, far too much! McCain's plans would go a long way (still not far enough, but a long way) to address the serious imbalances of the system, by increasing that most essential tool for improvement: unfettered competition. Another essential change is some sort of connection between the cost of the service, and what the consumer pays; right now, if one hospital charges twice as much as another for the same service, the actual consumer neither knows nor cares since they don't pay.
March 18, 2008 7:50 PM
Like Freidrich Hayek, the patron saint of the free marketers, I believe that that it makes sense to "socialize" health insurance. An American single payer system like Medicare for All as provided by HR 676 would be something like Canada's system with one key difference--it would have twice the funding, 2.5 times the funding of the English system. What would happen to the waiting times in those countries if funded at that level? They would be gone.

The big question is this: what value do the insurance companies deliver to justify the 1/3 of healthcare premiums they cost? Answer: none. Theat 1/3 will add up over the next ten years to $3 trillion. For what?

For more, see
March 19, 2008 1:04 AM
Anybody in favor of socialized medicine can experience it firsthand by joining the military. Let's see how good it looks after you've been denied treatment because somebody with no incentive to provide care dismisses you because a cursory look at your chart didn't convince him that you needed it.

Sure, the single-payer system is different. It moves the right of refusal from the doctor to the accountant. It doesn't matter how much money there is in the system. If the government is in charge, it will be wasteful, inefficient, and as friendly as a kick in the groin.
March 19, 2008 4:26 PM
Having experienced the health care systems of three countries (including the US), and possessing a basic knowledge of the problems facing them, my preference is not the US's private health care in its current form. But you're probably right to warn against socializing it... Americans would probably screw that up just as bad.
March 23, 2008 4:11 PM
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